FG taking us for granted, Niger Delta patience running out –Clark

Edwin Clark
A former Federal Commissioner for Information and convener of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, Chief Edwin Clark, speaks on the military operations in Niger Delta
, and the Water Resources Bill among other issues with THEOPHILUS ONOJEGHEN of Punch

You are a major player in the coalition of Middle Belt/Southern groups, currently moving against President Muhammadu Buhari. What do you have against his government?

Our forum, which comprises major regional groups from the Middle Belt and southern part of the country, particularly the Afenifere, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and the Middle Belt Forum, have been meeting regularly. We believe in the restructuring of this country. That is the only solution to the problems of this nation. I will not be holding this conference if this country is restructured. I will take care of my resources and they will not be channelled to other places. If I am controlling my resources and managing them well, I will develop my region and take care of my people’s welfare. My obligation to the Federal Government will just be payment of my tax. Some non-oil producing states have up to 44 local government councils, collecting huge sums from the federation account whereas Bayelsa State collects a meagre amount with just 16 local government areas. We believe in the restructuring of this country. Anybody who is committed to our welfare must key into this. Party manifestos must have restructuring as their number one agenda. We will vote for the candidate of any party that will comply with our demands. Restructuring, no doubt, is the only cure for the problems of Nigeria.

You alleged that South-South youths, particularly beneficiaries of the amnesty programme, were shut out the recent jobs recruitment into the NNPC. How did you discover this?

The board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, which is made of nine persons, has six from the North, one from the South-South and two from the South-West. The South-East has no representatives. The chairman of the NNPC board said contracts were awarded without the knowledge of the Minister of State for Petroleum. Other appointments were made without his knowledge. Finding out more, the minister is floating till today because the President is the minister of petroleum and the GMD of NNPC works directly with the President. So the minister of state hardly finds jobs to do. Even though he is the chairman of the NNPC board, he is a total stranger there. If contracts can be awarded without his knowledge and Mr. President approves them, what is the duty of the minister of state?

The NNPC is the engine house of the oil industry and if the minister of petroleum or minister of state for petroleum resources is the chairman, but his job has been taken over by the GMD, what is his relevance there? He’s been floating. He’s moving around pretending that he is very busy. I have also mentioned to you that our students, who went abroad or studied in other Nigerian universities, have graduated and returned without jobs to do. Nobody cared for them. Some of them have First Class grades and some, Second Class Upper. Today, if you go to the Warri Refinery, the Department of Petroleum Resources and other places, it’s as if you are in Kaduna State. You can easily determine the state of origin of the workers there by the dress they wear and the language they speak. So what type of country do we belong to? I am appealing to Mr. President that something has to be done immediately.

We should not be blackmailed, we should not be called all sorts of names like trouble makers. We are agitators, and our patience is running out. We are not grateful for what the government is doing for us. What is the government even doing for us in the first instance?

The Vice President, in his capacity as the Acting President who went to Bayelsa State during our tour of the area, said the modular refineries would replace the illegal refineries being operated by our youths and people. The vice president has been reminded of this but the minister of state goes about telling people that if you don’t have money, you cannot establish modular refineries. And that 10 of such facilities would soon be established with two, almost taking off.

They award scholarships from money derived from NNPC but the slots have been taken over by the northerners. Our children are no longer getting scholarships from Escravos Gas-to-Liquids Project.

Our children are well educated in relevant fields. We were disturbed over happenings in our area last year and about 100 leaders from the region, including first-class traditional rulers, former ministers, professors, former senators, politicians, youths and women leaders went to the Villa with a well-thought-out agenda that could sufficiently address our problems in the Niger Delta. Up till today, we are being treated as if nothing has happened. Nobody is talking to us. We have not seen the GMD to even brief us what government is doing on our case. They have not called us for dialogue. Sometimes the minister of Niger Delta will call us, but no meaningful action would follow such meeting. I have even asked our people not to attend meetings with him again. The Acting President at that time, (Yemi Osinbajo), went to Akwa Ibom and said the oil companies would be asked to move their headquarters to their operating bases in the Niger Delta. Clear directive from government! Nobody is talking about it again. Since Mr. President returned from London, the matter died. Chevron, for example, has its headquarters and everything in Lagos. There will be no Lekki, no Victoria Garden City and all that places in Lagos State without Chevron. Chevron has an estate in Gbagada; Chevron workers pay their taxes to the Lagos State Government instead of paying them to Niger Delta states.

If today oil exploration is stopped in the Niger Delta, there will be no evidence of its existence in the Niger Delta because there are no buildings. I am now 91 years old. I can no longer keep quiet and allow my people to continue to suffer. As it is said, we are not second class citizens in this country. We cannot be beggars in our country when we produce the resources.

Talking about roads, East-West Road started 10 years ago. Today, it has not been completed because of lack of funds. Yet, it is the most economic pliable road in Nigeria. All the trucks conveying petroleum products pass through the East-West Road. Could you imagine a situation whereby the proposed railway from Calabar to Lagos has to wait because there is no fund? Yet, the Niger Delta provides the funds to put other railways in place. Is it fair?

With what is happening, if you were to give advice as a father, would you advise the Minister of State for Petroleum to resign?

Why should he resign? He’s a citizen of this country. He should stand behind and fight for his right. He is well educated. This man was number two man in Mobil. He could have become the managing director of Mobil. You employed him as GMD, he performed very well. He didn’t ask for it, you promoted him to be minister of state, and he was looking after the two jobs. Then, you later appointed a GMD to take over from him and made him the chairman of NNPC’s board. One would have expected that the position of being chairman would give him an opportunity to perform all his duties as chairman. There is no reason why the present minister of state should not be given the full appointment of minister of petroleum. Today, Chevron has become a Yoruba company. I was not surprised the other day when the leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said there was no reason for Chevron to move its headquarter from Lagos to Warri. You can see the interest he was protecting. But we have our men there, in the House, in the Senate. What are they doing? They should make statements. Nobody is going to drive us from this country and nobody can exist in this country, functioning without us. We need them and they need us.

How is your relationship with former President Olusegun Obasanjo now?

There are no permanent friends and enemies in politics. Obasanjo is very forthright; he is not afraid of anybody. He speaks his mind on issues. My disagreement with him is that he alleged that some people are corrupt and I know that he is also corrupt. He was one of those who made President Muhammadu Buhari to win in the last election by condemning the former President (Goodluck Jonathan), who he also made President. He made him (Jonathan) governor because of his hatred for Alamieyeseigha. He (Obasanjo) made Jonathan vice president and contributed to his becoming President. So, I don’t know what went wrong. Jonathan became like somebody that was carrying leprosy and because of that, Obasanjo started abusing the Ijaw.

But I mentioned to him, when (Shehu) Shagari was the President of Nigeria, the Hausa language was the lingua franca of Aso Rock. When Obasanjo became President of Nigeria, the Yoruba language became the lingua franca of Aso Rock. When (Umaru) Yar’adua took over, Hausa language returned to the Villa. He brought all the people from Katsina. But when Jonathan came in, the language of Aso Rock remained Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo. There was no Ijaw language nor Urhobo language there because Jonathan’s people were not there. He could not employ his own people. I can count three or five people, thereafter, none. The only Ijaw adviser he had was Oronta Douglas, out of 18 advisers. The next one he had was the domestic assistant. Isn’t it? All I am saying is that you should not try to be president to fight for your people alone. When you are president, you are president of the whole country. Employment will be based on the character of this country. Obasanjo is still my friend. We have always been very friendly. Recently, somebody said we will meet. I am ready to meet with him at any time. He is not my enemy. When he says things that are true, I praise him. When he says things that are bad, I condemn him. That is politics!

The military operation is still ongoing in the Niger Delta despite your people’s demand that the soldiers should be withdrawn from the oil rich region. What is your next line of action now?

The soldiers never wanted to leave our area because they are benefiting from oil bunkering and other illegal activities they are doing there. Over the years, the JTF was not able to drive our boys from the creeks until we talked to them. They own the area; it is their terrain.

Even when the military brought the Crocodile Smile to Sapele and to other places, they ended up in tears. They went back. Whenever they are ready let them go whether they can stop the boys. It is just that our boys do not want to deliberately destroy the economy of their country. So they listened to their elders. This same government thinks it could talk to the boys by ignoring us but they failed. You ignore us to your detriment.

The soldiers are just boasting. If they want to make more money, let them go back to the creeks. They would add more to the trouble already existing there. They were not responsible for the peace there. We did and they know. Have they been able to stop the killings going on in Benue, Taraba, Plateau, Zamfara, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states? They know the terrain in our place is very difficult for them to succeed here. They should not claim what they do not control.

What is the position of PANDEF regarding the Water Resources Bill?

We have already responded to it. We are opposed to it. There is no reason for that bill to be brought by the executive to the National Assembly. This issue has been thrashed out a long time ago both in the Supreme Court and through government policies. The Land Use Act has taken care of all these things.